The Turnbull government is fond of dialling up the rhetoric on national security, but for over a year it’s been attempting to dial down the pay and conditions of those workers employed to ‘secure our borders’. Thom Mitchell reports.
The annual report of the now defunct Australian Customs and Border Protection Service revealed this week that last year Australian Border Force workers offloaded 336 airline passengers considered a threat to national security, performed 133,386 ‘real-time assessments’ of travellers across the country, and conducted 9,201 patrols.
Their reward, according to the Community and Public Sector Union which represents them, has been 16-months of pressure to acquiesce to a broadside assault on their pay and conditions as negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement drag out.
Given they were successful in “preventing a number of minors from travelling to the conflict areas in Syria and Iraq” — a point of real pride in this government’s offensive against the ‘Death Cult’ — Employment Minister Michaelia Cash’s disregard for their concerns is causing growing anger across the sector.
The standoff is so bad that workers in the Australian Border Force, an amalgamation of customs and immigration that came into effect this year, have been engaged in rolling industrial action for months, along with the broader public sector.
Over the last two days, the government has stepped up its efforts to strong-arm Australian Border Force employees into accepting its EBA offer by standing down workers engaged in a Fair Work sanctioned industrial action.
In August, the CPSU said, over 10,000 ABF workers, or more than 90 per cent, voted against accepting the government’s current offer. As a result a full day of industrial action is planned for November 9.
According to Cash, it’s all just part of the “misleading campaign” being run by the CPSU in pursuit of “unaffordable and unworkable claims”. But the union’s National Secretary, Nadine Flood, accused the government of running a misleading campaign of its own.
“Senior members of this government have been very quick to boost their border protection credentials by posing in photos with the mums and dads working in Border Force, but they’ve been absolutely silent in the face of a Government policy that would strip these same workers of essential rights and conditions and cut the take-home pay of many by $8,000 a year or more,” Flood said.
“These ex-Customs workers do a tough job — from dealing with alerts for terrorists and criminals to stopping ice and illegal gun importations — yet the Government seems intent on portraying them as some sort of new black-shirted goon squad.”
To be fair, the Australian Border Force did come pretty close to goon-squad status back in August when plans of a sting to stop and search people for visa papers were publicly announced.
— Jarryd (@Straffo) August 28, 2015
At the time, Flood called on the government “to stop cynically exploiting the work of the Australian Border Force for its own political ends, potentially putting officers at risk”.
“Making [workers]a public target through this sort of hysteria is completely unacceptable,” she said.